A new book released by University of Tennessee Press presents the most extensive collection of writings in print to date by early Great Smoky Mountains National Park advocate and author Horace Kephart. Edited by Mae Miller Claxton and George Frizzell of Western Carolina University, Horace Kephart: Writings provides a perfect companion to Great Smoky Mountains Association title Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography (2019).
Though he struggled with mental health and alcoholism that impacted his closest family, Kephart left an important mark in Southern Appalachia through his popular writings on the region and its people in the early 20th century. After seeking out the Smokies as a refuge from his former professional life as a librarian, Kephart wrote articles that helped spread appreciation for the Smokies’ natural beauty in collaboration with images taken by the photographer George Masa. Together, their work helped pave the way for the creation of a national park.
Horace Kephart: Writings places the author’s most famous works in context and gives home for the first time to a range of Kephart’s previously unpublished manuscripts, fiction, correspondence, and magazine articles. Nine themed chapters group Kephart’s writings into key areas of interest and provide further background with introductory essays contributed by leading Appalachian scholars.
Among the contributors are Janet McCue and George Ellison—the prominent Kephart scholars and coauthors behind GSMA’s popular title Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography (2019), winner of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award.
“This is a wonderfully curated compilation of Kephart's writings,” said McCue. “George and Mae's selections reveal Kephart's development as a writer as well as his struggles; they show his talents for communicating with various audiences from scouts to politicians, and ultimately, the letters, articles, and stories help us form a clearer view of the man who had such an enormous impact on the Great Smoky Mountains."
Writings adds to a growing body of literary work from and about Kephart. In addition to Back of Beyond, Great Smoky Mountains Association has published Kephart’s history of Cherokee removal in Southern Appalachia The Cherokees of the Smokies (1983), his previously unpublished novel Smoky Mountain Magic (2009), and expanded and new editions of Kephart’s most well-known works Camping and Woodcraft (2011) and Our Southern Highlanders (2014).
“We felt that more of Kephart’s diverse writings should be available to the general public,” said Claxton. “Most people think he wrote just a few things—important though they were. Also, the Kephart family, especially Libby Kephart Hargrave, has donated so much important archival material that needed to be part of a more complete Kephart portrait.”
Until now, curious readers would have only found Kephart’s many articles, essays, and correspondence produced throughout a lifetime of work scattered in archives and personal collections across the country. Writings not only preserves these lesser-known works but also puts them in conversation with each other by showcasing them in categories ranging from biography and fiction to the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The first chapter of biographical material introduced by an essay by GSMA authors McCue and Ellison includes correspondence Kephart wrote during his time as a librarian, articles written for various sporting and outdoors magazines, and painfully detailed news coverage of his breakdown in St. Louis. Readers of Back of Beyond will enjoy reading a number of the author’s works mentioned or referenced by McCue and Ellison in their thoroughly researched biography.
“The sheer breadth of his pursuits is astounding, and he often was known as an authority, or at least knowledgeable, in many of his endeavors,” said Frizzell. “These included his often-forgotten expertise in matters such as librarianship, outdoor cooking, and firearms to extensive time spent in writing fiction.”